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:: Pearl Harbour

Much has been suggested about “Pearl Harbour” since early in the year when its release was highlighted for 2001. One of the main thrusts immediately stated by the film’s producers was not to expect a true historical document on what occurred in the attack by Japan on America on December 7, 1941. That is mostly correct, although I will point towards several significant truths, which were not glossed over, later in this review that lifts the film. Probably the first thing worth mentioning is the incredible list of credits; probably the most I’ve seen since the Superman films of ten-fifteen years ago.

The film, itself, is huge in resource (much squabbling occurred over budgets and availability of its stars, though) and spectacular in special effects. It runs for three hours and focuses on a love triangle built around the Pearl Harbour tragedy. We first meet the two male lead actors as young boys to see their passion for flying planes and their close friendship. War is occurring in Europe and America is just sending equipment and supplies at this stage. The two boys, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) have become army pilots; Rafe in amusing circumstances. He volunteers to go to England where he joins an American division of the Royal Air Force. Before he goes, he falls in love with a nurse, Evelyn (Kate Beckinsdale). He leaves for his role while Evelyn and Danny are assigned to the naval station at Pearl Harbour. When Rafe is reported as killed, Evelyn and Danny are obviously devastated. Rafe has been Danny’s best friend and always protective of Danny since childhood. Danny is more sensitive and only confident when he’s up in the air. Danny then comforts Evelyn during the next few months until they become involved. By the time it is known that Rafe was plucked from the waters and hid in occupied France, Evelyn and Danny were in love. Therein a battle, of a different kind, began for Evelyn’s affections, and a romantic triangle ensues.

The war in Europe showed the difficulty in containing Adolf Hitler and that had driven Rafe into action. However, there had been a fragile level of peace in the Pacific. Director Michael Bay gives a brief interpretation of the events leading up to the Pearl Harbour attack. Frustrated by a US oil embargo, Japanese battle planners were pushed into a corner that now demanded some action. Signals were emerging in the US about a possible action by Japan, but not so much an air or sea strike. It’s interesting to note that as the love triangle was reaching its boiling point, the Japanese began their bombing of Pearl Harbour. This was the excellent part of the movie. The filmmaking is quite brilliant. Cameras follow the flight of the Japanese Zero fighter planes and their bombs, while we also witness the filming in the water to follow the torpedoes on their deadly missions. It is one of the most spectacular battle scenes put on film. The direction didn’t have to have shock value to get the view of the attack across. The incredible magnitude of destruction that occurred is moving enough, and Bay did a fine job in filling the screen with the chaos and despair. The confusion of wartime is evident everywhere, and the aftermath truly showed the horror of war.

The historical content won’t sit well with some armchair critics and certain observers of war history. But the fact remains that the filmmakers portrayed the right points in the surprise attack. Two pilots (Rafe and Danny) went up in the air to shoot down some Japanese planes. A black cook (played by Cuba Gooding Jr), not allowed to handle weapons in the segregated Navy showed true mettle beyond his allowable duty, and became the first American black man to receive a Navy Cross medal. The film also depicted all the heavy losses. “Pearl Harbour” is therefore effective in acknowledging these aspects. One could even say that the hospital scene, showing Evelyn at the forefront, was a pretty good reason alone for having us see this film. And to see the men trapped in the USS Arizona fighting for their lives leaves powerful images. Some of the film is compelling and is better than showing no history of the attack at all. It’s beneficial for young Americans to know something about this war, and hope that they don’t have to live through another one.

This ambitious film values the crowd-pleasing aspects. It has the great sets, attractive performers and flashy special effects. There could have been a little more spark in the personal relationships, but Affleck and Hartnett work quite adequately. British-born actress Kate Beckinsdale is most appealing. She is the perfect choice for the romantic lead role. She delivers a worthy American accent and portrays Evelyn’s feelings worthily. As mentioned before, her expressions of pain, after the attack, when she has to help care for the injured men, is to be noted. Watch, also, for Cuba Gooding Jr as the cook with no military training. Smaller roles are given to well-known actors such as Dan Ackroyd (an intelligence officer), Alec Baldwin (General Doolittle), and Jon Voight (the US President). They provide good performances. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is played by Mako, and perhaps his comment of, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant”, could have aptly closed the film.

Although historians may prefer a film like “Tora, Tora Tora” (which is excellent), “Pearl Harbour” should be seen on the big screen for its sheer visual impact alone. The storyline, however interpreted, didn’t drag and it may be too harshly judged on what occurs outside of the attack: the characters, relationships, and suspense. The film has enough going for it to suggest it isn’t as bad as the hype that was building in the lead-up, particularly in talking down the bravery and patriotism element. It’s a picture of entertainment and history that, at least, might encourage people to learn more about this blot on history.

Screening on general release